FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots introduced their first-round draft pick, defensive lineman Dominique Easley, at Gillette Stadium Monday morning, as Robert and Jonathan Kraft presented the Staten Island native with a ceremonial jersey at midfield.
Robert Kraft noted that this year’s NFL Draft, which concluded Saturday, was the 21st under his ownership. He then turned to Easley and asked how old the Florida product is.
“Twenty-two,” said Easley, a bit sheepishly.
Wearing an ensemble in appropriate hues — a navy suit and solid red tie — Easley also sported a long gold chain with a pendant he said was inscribed with the name of his young son, Dominique II. The toddler isn’t with him physically, Easley explained, so the pendant is a way to have his son with him at all times.
On Thursday night, Easley was in a New York hotel room with two boyhood friends when he got a call from the New England brass, telling him the Patriots would select him 29th overall.
“I’ve been watching them for years, so it’s a blessing and it’s an honor,” Easley said. “I plan to do everything that they ask me to, and do it to the best ability that I can.”
He arrived in Foxborough Sunday, and he and the rest of the Patriots rookies had dinner together Sunday night, then spent early Monday taking physicals and meeting with coach Bill Belichick.
“We’re a little behind,” Easley said Belichick told them. “We have work to do. Everybody wants to be great, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Because the draft was held two weeks later than usual, the Patriots and several other teams will not hold rookie minicamps this year. Those camps are typically when the newcomers get focused attention from coaches and begin to learn all of the basics.
Easley’s father, David, and other family members have served in the military, with David doing a tour in Iraq while Dominique was in junior high school. Knowing what they endured has shaped Dominique over the years.
“Well, that really helped me as a man — there’s no excuse for nothing because they were put in situations that were life or death,” Easley said. “So the life that we’re living now is much easier than the life that they had to live [in combat].”
His own trials in college may pale in comparison, but Easley had his share of obstacles.
Listed at 6 feet 2 inches, 288 pounds, Easley was on his way to becoming a star for Florida and a sure-fire first-round pick when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a practice last September. Previously, he had torn his left ACL.
Though he opted not to take a medical redshirt after the most recent knee injury (he also damaged his meniscus) and to enter the NFL Draft, Easley’s health led most draft observers to believe he’d be taken in the third or fourth round. But Belichick clearly was not concerned.
Neither Belichick nor Easley has said he’s fully healthy nor given any timetable as to when he will be, if he’s not.
Free agents signed
The Patriots announced the signings of nine rookie free agents, including the younger brother of former New England first-round pick Benjamin Watson.
The players signed are: Bowling Green tight end Tyler Beck, Oklahoma running back Roy Finch, Oklahoma State safety Shamiel Gary, Michigan linebacker Cameron Gordon, Delaware defensive back Travis Hawkins, Indiana running back Stephen Houston, East Carolina tight end Justin Jones, Mississippi State linebacker Deontae Skinner, and North Carolina State tight end Asa Watson.
Harvard long snapper/tight end Tyler Ott also agreed to a free agent deal with New England, but he will not join the team until he completes finals this week, which is why the team has not announced that he has signed.
Beck, listed at 6-2, 257 pounds, played in 49 games during his career. He totaled 25 receptions for 348 yards and three touchdowns in that time, with 10 catches and 177 yards coming his senior season.
Finch had nearly 3,000 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns with the Sooners over 47 games. Listed at 5-7, 167, he played in 13 games with two starts in 2013 and finished with 59 rushing attempts for 347 yards and caught 12 passes for 91 yards; he also had 47 kickoff returns for 1,099 yards and a score.
Gary began his career at Wyoming (2009-10) before transferring to Oklahoma State, and started every game over the last two seasons at strong safety. Gary (6-0, 210) had 47 tackles last year.
Gordon, 6-3, 237, began his career with the Wolverines as a receiver before moving to safety and then linebacker.
The 5-10, 195-pound Hawkins began his career at Maryland before transferring to Delaware. He was an all-conference selection last year after recording 66 total tackles, 4 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed.
Houston finished his career at Indiana fourth on the school’s all-time list with 25 rushing touchdowns. The 6-foot, 230-pound back rushed for 753 yards on 112 attempts, with a 6.7-yard average and 5 touchdowns last season.
Jones, 22, was a three-year starter at East Carolina and finished his career with 52 receptions for 598 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 6-8, 277-pounder was not eligible to play last season.
A three-year starter at Mississippi State, Skinner (6-2, 250) played in 11 games last year with 64 tackles.
Watson, listed at 6-3, 237, played in 36 career games for North Carolina State. He had 29 receptions for 351 yards and a touchdown.